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China syndrome



Published: Sat, May 12, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



China would like to pretend that its pilot's downing of a U.S. surveillance plane last month never happened.

In Honolulu the other day, Chinese Finance Minister Xiang Huaicheng and U.S. Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill met during a session of the Asian Development Bank, the highest level meeting between officials of the two counties since the spy plane crisis.

Before their meeting, Xiang told reporters "there has been satisfactory resolution to the troubles" between Beijing and Washington. And after the meeting, a spokesman for O'Neill said, "the only thing they talked about was their respective economies."

Maybe China isn't the only one who wants to pretend that nothing happened.

Really now: The problem with such pretending is that a very real EP-3E Aries II aircraft owned by the taxpayers of the United States is sitting at a Chinese military airport on the island of Hainan. And even though American technicians have said the plane could be repaired and flown home, the Chinese are saying that if it leaves the island at all it will have be chopped up and shipped away.

That doesn't sound to us like a "satisfactory resolution."

But if that's they way China wants it, maybe that's the way it should be.

Cut up the plane, ship it home, rebuild it and while doing so keep track of every dime spent along the way. Sooner or later -- and we're guessing sooner -- one of the hundreds of container ships China sends to U.S. ports loaded with goods that are sold in U.S. stores will make a mistake.

There will be a small oil spill, perhaps, or bills of lading won't match the cargo. And when that happens, China can be told that it can come and cut up its ship and take it home in packing crates, or it can pay a fine. If that fine just happens to be exactly what it cost the American taxpayers to get their airplane back, that would be a satisfactory resolution.




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